This India travelogue describes my experiences of travelling around India by train. I hope it will be useful for anyone considering a similar way of getting around India.
These India travelogues cover my 2004 train journey around this fascinating country. Travelling around India by train was an eye-opening experience to say the least, and it was also a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
These India travel blog posts were originally written down in a diary. I later moved them online when I started travel blogging in 2005. Initially, each day I spent in India travelling by train had its own separate page.
In 2022, I condensed these pages together, and now you can read all my diary entries from my train trip around India on this one page. As a result, it's quite a long page, so I hope you have a nice cup of chai before you start!
Note that although these diary entries are from 2004, and I am sure India has changed a lot since my visit, they may still be of interest for anyone planning an epic India train journey. Also, I come back and read them from time to time to remind myself where I've travelled to and what I got up to!
Train travel in India
I've always associated India with railways, and so my ‘theme' for this journey was travel by train. Using a combination of good books (pre any useful internet in 2004!) and an incredibly helpful specialist travel agent in London, I managed to plan and book my route and train tickets months ahead.
Although this gave me little flexibility as I travelled around India, it did mean that I could visit what I considered to be every major highlight of a huge country in a relatively short space of time.
India Travelogues 2004
Back in 2004, I wasn't blogging and took few photos. I was very much travelling just for the experience. To soak everything up and to truly live in the moment.
As such, these India travelogues are often scant on detail, raw, and have few photos. In a way, my travel life was a lot simpler back then without having to worry about travel blogs, social media, and WiFi!
Still, these insights into my India trip by train should still make an interesting read.
My first day in Delhi, India – Sunday 04/01/04
The time is now 18.05, and here I am in New Delhi, India! What a strange old life. The journey here was quite long, but uneventful.
Getting through customs was a breeze, and I changed some money for my first Rupees in the airport. Then, I booked a pre-paid taxi, and told them where I wanted to go… The Yatri house on Punchkuin Road.
An introduction to India travel scams
That was when I was introduced to the first of no doubt many little scams in India. Despite the office saying that the driver knew where the hotel was, the driver said that he didn't, and needed to go to another office ask for directions.
Whilst I was there, one of the guys in this other office pretended to phone the hotel for directions, only to find out that the hotel was ‘suddenly booked out'. He then suggested another, cheaper hotel, where no doubt he would pocket some commission.
I stuck to my guns, told him the Yatri was where I wanted to go, and that he'd better take me there.
He obviously realised that (a) I knew what was going on and that (b) I was a lot bigger than him, because the driver took me there without any more hassle, although after dropping me off, he did have the cheek to ask for a tip.
I told him where to stick it and booked into the hotel, where lo and behold, my pre-reserved room was waiting for me. One-nil to Dave!
My hotel room in Delhi
The hotel room was basic (goes without saying really), and reminded me of some of the hostels I'd stayed at in Spain.
The weather here is surprisingly chilly. 10-12 during the day, and half that at night. After booking in, I crashed out for a few hours, as I hadn't been near a bed for almost 48 hours. Woke up at four in the afternoon, and decided to go for a wander.
First Impressions of Delhi
My first impressions of Delhi were noisy and dusty! Drivers don't use indicators, and instead use their horns to let people know they are changing lanes… Not that the lanes actually represent anything more than an amusing attempt to paint straight lines over a series of potholes.
It took a couple of hours to realise what side of the road people were supposed to be driving on. There was some sort of Sikh festival happening, and that combined with jetlag was enough for me, so I headed back to the hotel, and had an early night. I had a full day ahead of me in Delhi the next day.
My first full day in Delhi – Monday 05/01/04
I got up at about ten, and over breakfast, got talking to an Aussie couple who had first visited India in the late seventies. They mentioned how much it had changed since then, with the traffic and pollution all increasing.
I caught a rickshaw down to the New Delhi train station to reconfirm my reservations. There was a guy standing on the stairs saying that the office was closed, and that I should go to a travel agent over the road, but this is such an old scam, I just laughed in his face.
The office was, of course, open, and my train times were reconfirmed, and only one had changed. Afterwards, I took a walk through the main bazaar in Paharganj, and took some photos of the utter madness there.
The way that the pedestrians and auto-rickshaws narrowly miss each other is amazing! Saw a couple of cows loafing around (first ones!!), and wandered off to have a veg-burger and a cup of tea.
Some of the book stalls had a weird and wonderful mixture of subjects, and I bought George Orwell's Animal Farm, as I hadn't read it in some time. Took another auto-rickshaw back to the guesthouse, and I booked a car and driver for the next day so that I could see the highlights of Delhi all in one go.
Sightseeing in Delhi – Tuesday 06/01/04
Had a bit of an on-off sleep through the night, but not too bad.
I got talking to the Aussie couple again in the morning, and they said they were having a bad time coping.
This is one of those countries where you've just got to go with the flow of the chaos of it all, I think, and there is no point in trying to fit in with the local population. You've just got to take things as they come, and accept that whatever you do, the locals will always look at you as a tourist.
Things to see in Delhi
Anyway, I met my driver Raj outside, who was warming his hands over one of the thousands of tiny fires that the people here seem to love lighting at the slightest whim from any rubbish laying around.
He was a nice enough guy, and first of all, he took me to the Birla temple. Very picturesque.
Next, was India gate, but the photo didn't turn out too well, what with all the smog and pollution hanging in the air. Next was the railway museum, which was a bit of a disappointment, but I did manage to get a photo of this sign! (see the selection below).
Qutb Minar in Delhi
We then went to Qutb Minar, which I've always wanted to visit because of it's two thousand + year old iron pillar which shows no sign of rust.
The best part of the complex, was the Qutb Minar itself, a huge tower undergoing some repair work, which is probably just as well, as it's about as straight as the leaning tower of Pisa!
Bahai Temple in Delhi
Next stop was the Bahai Temple, in the shape of a lotus flower, which was very peaceful. In such a frantic city, the quietness is a very stark contrast.
Next was Humayuns tomb, which I felt was the best monument of the day. Again, and oasis of peace, it is a pre-cursor to the Taj Mahal, and very photogenic. Spent a while wandering around and looking at the chipmunks, who were trying to avoid getting eaten by the eagles (or hawks, wasn't really sure).
Finally, I visited the Red Fort in Old Delhi which was extremely impressive and overpowering from the outside, but a bit rubbish from within.
Spent a while in there, (saw a monkey or two!) before jumping onto a bicycle rickshaw for an unforgettable ride through Chandi Chowk, which is another bazaar. To say that it was crowded is the understatement of the year!
Train travel in India – Wed 07/01/04
I checked out of the hotel at lunchtime, and caught a rickshaw into New Delhi train station, where I sorted everything out.
My train to Calcutta wasn't due to leave until 17.00, so I went into the station restaurant for a bite to eat.
Eating and drinking just isn't the same if it's not off a dirty, chipped and greasy plate with a filthy cup! After my stomach problem inviting meal, I checked on the train time again, to find that it had been delayed until 22.40.
Bugger! Just like being in England! Still, it gave me plenty of time to observe railway life.
Life on the Indian railways
The day's observation – It seems to be fashionable for the locals to put camouflage covers on their suitcases!
Got talking to a Canadian, German and Estonian who were also stranded, but got on the train at last.
I shared the compartment with a Korean guy who could speak little English, but that was ok, as I could only speak a little Korean (pretty limited to Tae-Kwon-Do fighting stance phrases which were of little use!). I made the bed up, and at 22.40 exactly, the train got going.
After nearly 24 hours on the train from Delhi, I finally arrived in Calcutta. It was too late to do any sightseeing in Calcutta, so instead, I decided to get my head down for the night, and start the next day afresh. My choice of accommodation? The Yatri Niwas railway sleeping room.
Staying at the Yatri Niwas in Calcutta – Thur 08/01/04
Well, it turned out to be quite a long train ride from Delhi… nearly 24 hours in the end, although I did sleep remarkably well. Got to Howrah (Calcutta station) at 21.30, and as I hadn't sorted out anywhere to sleep, I decided to stay in the Yatri Niwas.
The Yatri Niwas is described as the ‘new' style of railway sleeping rooms. A bit of an eye opener!
There was five to a dorm, as you can see, although miraculously, I escaped bug free. Still, at just over a pound a night, what more could I expect!
I had a train booked for the following night, so the next day was my site seeing day. I got my head down, and joined in the snoring contest with an assortment of Indian businessmen.
A day in Calcutta – Fri 09/01/04
Had a shave, cold shower, used the squat toilet and checked out. I dumped my bag in the cloakroom of the railway station, and had some breakfast, before taking a walk over the Howrah bridge and into Calcutta itself.
It seems a bit more laid back than Delhi, but it was odd to see the pavement barbers, people washing clothes in open drains and having showers from hoses etc.
I had a pretty good day in Calcutta, which was not quite as frantic as Delhi, and even had proper roads in places!
Victoria Memorial and Sudder Street
The Victoria Memorial was interesting, documenting events from early European involvement up until the present day. After visiting there, and sitting in the peaceful park, I went into Sudder Street which is the backpackers hangout.
I don't understand why fifty percent of them seem to have this near desperation to dress so deliberately scuzzy. By trying to wear the cheapest local clothes and not washing for four days, it's like they are mirroring the poorest street living people, which is a little bit sick.
Anyone with half a brain can see that there are real problems with poverty here, and it's like some awful joke that these people (all from middle class back grounds!!) are trying to look as poor as them. Anyway rant over!
Backpackers cafe on Sudder Street
Went to a typical backpacker's cafe, and saw several people waiting for their 2rs change (about 5 pence!) Shoot me if I ever get like that! Wandered back over to the station, and caught the train to Puri.
Night Train to Puri, India – Blog post written Sat 10/01/04
Another interesting night on the train! Surrounded by the sterio-typical lower-middle class Indian family with annoying small child and four suitcases each!
However, as it had been a long day, I managed to get a good nights sleep, despite being directly under the air conditioning unit.
I arrived at Puri, and met up again with a Cuban, Pole and Spaniard whom I had been talking to the previous night in the station. We decided to share a couple of rickshaws between us, and had a look at a couple of guesthouses.
Some were a bit naff, so I settled on the Hotel Derby, which was a bit more expensive than the others, but did have cable TV.
As it was the morning when I checked in, I had breakfast up on the veranda in the beautifully warm sun and ate breakfast looking out onto the ocean, wondering where it all went wrong!
Visiting Puri Beach
I went out onto the beach, which was reasonable with lots of fishing vessels. It was a lovely day, and after a wander along the sand, it was obviously time for another meal, so I had a veg curry in one of the cafes and watched the world go by.
I think that the western travellers are just as interesting to look at as the inhabitants of Puri. Well over fifty percent of them fell into the ‘alternative, trying to find myself' category.
Then you had the ageing hippy trying to relive their youth brigade. There are always a couple of Japanese tourists of course, and also one Western Hare Krishna, who judging by the looks the locals were giving him, was considered a bit odd by more people than just me.
I got a bicycle rickshaw into the centre of Puri, where I walked around a temple and took a few photos.
I booked an autorickshaw to take me to Konark the Sun Temple the following day, and had an early night in front of the TV. Saw a very large rat wander around my room. Marvelous stuff.
Visiting the Temple of Konark – 11/01/04
It was another beautiful morning, sitting on the veranda and eating breakfast in Puri. Just a couple of notes-
- Everybody here assumes that all Westerners smoke dope
- One of the taxis had a series of Christmas songs as its reverse warning.
Day trip to Konark from Puri
A good day trip to Konark, even if the rickshaw was a bit bumpy over the potholes. There was some nice scenery on the way, and again, passed a mix of people some of whom lived literally on the roadside in incredibly dusty shacks.
The Temple of Konark
The temple itself was impressive, although it is in the process of being rebuilt. It's a sun temple, which is represented as a huge chariot being drawn towards the sea by horses.
At the bottom of it are carvings of elephants and towards the top are sculptures of men and women doing all manner of lewd and rude things.
A random Indian wandered up to me, and asked if he could take my photo, which is a bit odd. I wonder what my label will be in his family photo album?!
Some great stonework and design at the Temple of Konark in India. When i visited Cambodia later on, Angkor Wat reminded me very much of some of these temples.
The following day, I was due to catch a train to Bubeneshwar, so had another early(ish) night.
Half-day in Bubenishwar – 12/01/04
Checked out of the Hotel Derby in Puri, and got a bicycle rickshaw back to the station.
Talked to the SS (station supervisor) who was very helpful, and he told me my seat number and what time the train was due to leave.
On the train, I got talking to a German couple who had been travelling for a month.
When I got to Bubenishwar, I dumped my bag in the cloakroom, and got a bicycle rickshaw to the centre. Bought a couple of things off the market, had lunch, and walked around a couple of temples.
It was starting to get hot after lunch, so I returned to the station and waited in the shade for my next train which was back to Calcutta.
Life in Indian railway stations
The cross section of life on India's railways is amazing.
You have the stray dogs which nobody seems to like, the homeless who use the facilities of the station, such as the water to drink or wash in. the coolies carry improbably large loads balanced on their heads, and the bicycle rickshaw drivers are wiry in physique.
Then there are the platform vendors, the toilet attendants, and sweepers who ineffectually move the dust around with their broomsticks.
Back in Calcutta Rail Travel – Tuesday 13/01/04
Slept on the train overnight again, and I arrived in Howrah station, Calcutta at 5.50 in the morning.
I caught a taxi straight over to Sealdah which is the other station, dumped my bag in the cloakroom, and after a quick walk around the slums, caught a rickshaw back over to Sudder Street where I had breakfast.
This was my second time in Calcutta, so I visited the Indian museum, which was ok. Had lunch back at Sudder Street, where I met some people who had volunteered to work at the Mother Teresa hospitals.
All very commendable, but unfortunately, this lot had been touched by God. ‘Praise the Lord' and talking very loudly in American accents didn't help their case.
Got a taxi back to Sealdah and caught the train to New Jalpaiguri, where I would have an hour and a half to make my onward connection with a sleeper train to Darjeeling.
Arriving in Darjeeling by Train – Wed 14-01-04
When I woke up in the morning, it became obvious that the train was being delayed because of fog, and that I would miss my connection with the Toy Train to Darjeeling.
I got talking to one of the off duty train workers, and found out more about his job. he's always on the same route, and goes up and down from Calcutta to New Jalpaiguri.
Talking with people has been a real highlight of train travel in India.
Taking a jeep from Siligiri to Darjeeling
Once the train arrived, I caught a bicycle rickshaw to Siligiri, and then a jeep to Darjeeling.
There were 12 of us including the driver in a normal four wheel drive, with one of the passengers have to share the drivers seat!
In Darjeeling, I wandered around for a while, and eventually booked into Hotel Seven Seventeen, where I checked in for three nights. Nice and clean, hot water, sit down loo and cable TV, and all for seven pounds a night!
Treated myself to a nice chicken curry in the restaurant, and then settled down into a comfortable bed… At last!! Note – The best cup of tea I've ever had! Well worth the journey!
Sightseeing in Darjeeling – Thursday 15/01/04
Had a big breakfast in the hotel restaurant, and then went for a walk around the town. I don't know what it is about Darjeeling, but anywhere else I can find my way easily, but not here!
Anyway, I eventually located observatory hill, which does have some great views, but unfortunately, it was too cloudy to take any photos. Saw three eagles circling high, and a wild monkey.
The people here seem a lot better off financially than the other places that I've visited so far, and I haven't heard one cry of ‘Uncle, Uncle 1 rupee' !
Day off in Darjeeling – Friday 16/01/04
Had a mild case of the squits, so I had to be careful not to fart! It didn't stop me having a big breakfast though. Had a general wander around and bought a couple of gifts. Extremely nice tea!
Darjeeling Toy Train – Sunday 18/01/04
The toy train ride down from Darjeeling was very picturesque, if a tad on the tormentingly slow side. Saw a troop of monkeys on the way down.
Got the connecting train with an hour to spare, and ended up sharing a compartment with an Indian family complete with nanny. They had the usual four bags each, and they amusingly asked me how they could pack and travel lighter!
Got to Mughal Serai station, and caught a rickshaw over to Varanassi Junction station where I dumped my bag. Walked over to a hotel, and booked myself in for the night, which was four star and cost less than a fiver!
Happy birthday me!! 32 years old. Not a bad life so far.
Boat ride on the Ganges – Blog post written Mon 19/01/04
I got up early in the morning for my boat ride on the Ganges. It was a foggy morning, so unfortunately I didn't get to see the sunrise, the fog certainly added to the atmosphere of the day.
From the clothes washers thrashing clothes on slabs, to the funeral pyres and the boats stacked full of wood. The people bathing in and drinking the water, to the tourists, it was all incredible. Here's a short piece of prose.
A rabid dog feasting on the rotting corpse,
Of a dead pig, washed up by the putrid, faecal waters
Of you, Holy Ganges.
Probably not going to go down in history for that one!
Anyway, I went to a couple of temples afterwards. My guide was helpful, and mentioned a couple of interesting things, such as that Hinduism like Christianity has a trinity.
Om is the word for this joint godhead, and the individual Gods are just different personalities of the same thing. Bought a silk table cloth and posted it home (looks very good on my wall!).
Taking the train from Varanassi – Tuesday 20/01/04
Had a lazy breakfast and watched TV before checking out at noon. Settled my bill, and left my bag in their cloakroom whilst I sat out on the lawn reading, and planning the next few days.
A Dutch couple turned up in a huge camper van that they had obviously driven over from Holland, but I never got a chance to chat to them.
At the train station, I had a long wait for the train. There was an ace announcement though..
‘The 22.20 Howrah train is running …. indefinitely …. late, and will arrive … later ‘.
A reasonably entertaining wait, watching the odd rat put in a celebrity appearance, and of course the cows leaving huge dollops of poo all over the platform.
Got talking to another Christian religious sort, who gave me a pamphlet, which was just as well, because I was running low on toilet paper.
Arriving in Khajuraho – Wed 21/01/04
Another long journey, and the Indian railway system kept to their unwritten policy of ignoring the timetable. Caught a bicycle rickshaw in Satna to the bus stand, and then got on an extremely crowded bus to Khajuraho.
A jeep ride into the town, and straight into a nice and cheap hotel room, where I decided to have a chill out day.
Khajuraho Temple Complex in India – Thursday 22/01/04
After a good breakfast, I went to see the western group of temples, which I have to say were pretty impressive.
Just why they were all built in this one, out of the way place is a mystery. My answer to it is that it was a builders display for people from other towns to come and choose the temple they wanted to build in their home towns!
A lot of them had erotic sculptures lining the walls. Again, a group of random Indians asked to take my photo, and I got an equally bemused tourist to take a photo of them with me as well.
I spent the evening playing chess with a couple of locals and drinking chai.
I spent the next couple of days chilling out, and taking various trains to get to Amritsar, which you can read in the next section.
Arriving in Amritsar on the Indian Trains
When I eventually arrived in Amritsar after a long and arduous journey, I checked into a hotel which the Lonely Planet described as a mid range one.
It was moderately priced, but the novelty of the cushioned swing in the room didn't offset the fact that the TV didn't work, the toilet didn't flush, the hot water was non existent and the room was generally tatty.
I was so tired that I stayed the night anyway, but the next morning (Monday) I changed hotels straight away.
Mata Temple and Shri Durgiana Temple in Amristar
I visited the Mata temple which was like a bizarre grotto of Gods and Goddesses, through which you walk up stairs, crawl through tunnels and walk through a stream.
The tacky Christmas lights made it all that bit stranger. I also visited the Shri Durgiana Temple, and the Jallianwala Bagh memorial. Then it was on to the Golden Temple.
Agra and the Taj Mahal – Wed 28/01/04
An ok enough train journey, shared yet again with another family going to a wedding.
Immediately after getting off the train, I could sense that it was going to be a bit of a scrum outside the station, so I found a telephone, and booked ahead for a room in Agra.
My first bicycle rickshaw broke down on the way (snapped chain), so it took me an hour to reach the hotel. I checked in and had a snack before heading off to the Taj Mahal. At 750 Rs it was the most expensive site I had paid to get into, but by far the most beautiful.
These photos don't do it justice by the way !(My camera in 2004 was not very good. In fact thinking about it, it wasn't a digital camera. I actually digitized the negatives when I later started travel blogging!).
I hired a guide to take me around the Taj Mahal, and although he was pretty good, I didn't learn a lot more than I'd already read about.
That said, he pointed out that even when it was first built, it was a tourist attraction. The Taj Mahal was a real highlight, and truly deserves its place in the seven modern wonders of the world.
After finishing at the Taj, it was time to head back to the hotel in Agra.
Are you experienced? – Thursday 29/01/04
Over breakfast, I got chatting to a couple of Indian girls from England, who were pretty down to earth types. They'd been here a couple of months, and were like me amazed at the westerners who wanted to dress dirtier than the homeless untouchables.
I have a theory that maybe it's a psychological thing done out of guilt, and that the only way public school types can relate to poverty, is to become it.
Anyway, the girls gave me a book called ‘Are you experienced' which is an excellent piss take of a journey around India. The author and I are very much on the same wavelength here. It's almost like I wrote it!
Agra Fort Sightseeing
I dumped my stuff off at the station, and then hired a bicycle rickshaw for a couple of hours. First, I went to see Agra fort.
It was huge on the outside, but only a part of it is open to the public on the inside, as the rest is used by the Indian army.
What I could see was good though, with lots of monkeys running about the place.
Baby Taj Mahal
I also saw the Baby Taj. It's official name is the Tomb of I'timād-ud-Daulah, and it is a Mughal mausoleum. It's most commonly known as the Baby Taj, and it was a precursor to the more famous Taj Mahal.
From the other side of the river, I also had a view to the real Taj Mahal at another angle. After that, it was back to the station to have a meal, read my book and wait for a train.
Life on Indian Train Platforms
Here's my view on train platform wildlife –
- Pigeons – Fly around a lot, but don't seem to eat much.
- Monkeys/Cows – The two rarely inhabit the same platform, as they occupy the same niche in the hierarchical chain. Where as the monkey cheekily steals what it wants, the cow will happily, and with immunity (being holy and all) wander up to any vegetables being transported in carts, and start chomping.
- Dogs – Each one has its own territory and acts as a scavenger.
- Rats – Only come out at night when most of the above are sleeping, and eat what is left over.
As the train was delayed for a couple of hours (an amazing shock), I got talking to a family of Indians who had come to Agra on a day trip.
As we got talking, a small crowd gathered around, and eventually a couple of cameras came out, and I ended up having my picture taken by everybody for everybody, including holding their small child.
It's all very odd, and the number of Indian family photo albums I'm in continues to rise! managed to get someone to take a photo of me with someone to give him a taste of his own medicine!
I arrived in Jodhpur safe and sound, and checked into a lovely room in the Cosy Comfort Guesthouse, with hot water and TV. After a well deserved shower, I went out to change some travellers cheques, and had dinner in the hostel. A crappy Steven Seagal film was on, which is always a bonus!
Walking around the fort at Jodhpur – Saturday 31/01/04
I walked around the fort with Pascal, a Swiss cyclist who I got talking to the previous night. The views out over the city were amazing, and this picture shows some of the blue houses as seen through a battlement.
Had dinner back at the hotel, and then went to the railway station where I caught the night train to Jaisalmer.
Jaisalmer Camel Safari – Sunday 01/02/04
Caught a jeep to an ok hotel in Jaisalmer, and after a nap and a shower, I booked to go on a camel safari starting that afternoon.
The safari! Got picked up by a jeep, and went first to a Jain temple, which was very pretty but not exactly spectacular. Then I was taken to the dunes, where I rode my first camel.
No problems, but a bit of chaffing around the balls area!
Got off after an hour, and was pestered by a series of kids whilst waiting for the sunset. I then rode the camel back to camp, where I had a meal and discovered that because of some Muslim holy day, I would be the only one going on the safari! (This area being mainly Muslim).
Normally there would be a couple of hundred other tourists sleeping out in the desert, but today, it was only me, and I fell asleep to the sound of drums and music drifting across the desert night air.
Continuing the Camel Safari – Mon 02/02/04
There's two versions of travel. There's the romantic version which matches the picture in your head, and then there's reality. And the reality of riding a camel on safari if you are not used to it, is that it's painful! Here's more about my camel safari from Jaisalmer.
Had an ok sleep, and after some early morning chai, it was back onto the camel. Just the (not so happy because he couldn't go to the religious party) guide and myself on the safari.
Riding the camel was fine, and I found them quite amusing. A little like old women, moaning and nervous all the time. Stopped off at some dunes to do a spot of dune jumping, and then rode on.
Stopped off in the shade under a tree for a long lunch, where we were joined by a goat-herder who gave us some goats milk for chai.
Then we trotted off for the rendezvous point. By now, my legs were starting to ache just a touch, and so it wasn't exactly with pleasure that I spotted the sight of a motorbike waiting to pick me up, so that they could continue aching for a further 30 miles!
The fact that the rider only looked twelve, and said that he had only ridden the bike twice before (including the trip out to pick me up) only added to the joy. No harm done though, as there wasn't too much traffic, and so I got back to the hotel in Jaisalmer safe and sound.
A cancelled train out of Jaisalmer – Tues 03/02/04
The day didn't exactly go to plan. I checked out ok, had some breakfast, and then went to use the internet. It was at the point where it took three quarters of an hour to read one email that I knew how it was going. I went back to the hotel to pick my stuff up, and the guy behind the desk there said that the afternoon train was cancelled.
At first, I took this to be bullshit (a ruse to get me to stay another night, or buy a more expensive ticket), but I went down to the station, and yes, it was cancelled. I queued for an hour to get to the counter to find out what was going on, but they didn't really know, and couldn't guarantee to get me on on a train for the next day either. T
hey had another couple of options which didn't sound too promising, so I decided that it would be better to get a bus instead. I headed back to my hotel, booked in for another night, and then watched another marvelously bad Steven Seagal film called Exit Wounds.
The Jaisalmer Festival – Thursday 05/02/04
I checked out of the hotel in Jaisalmer, but left my bag at the hotel during the day, as the bus wasn't due to leave until the evening. Would say that it worked out in my favour in the end, because I got to watch the beginning of the Jaisalmer festival.
I watched the camels and their colourfully dressed riders march through the streets from the roof of a restaurant, which was pretty cool, and then I went over to the stadium where they were all assembled.
There was lots of displays, and although the festival lasted for several days, I had to catch a bus within a couple of hours of the official start. It was still good to see, hear and smell it all though!
I later learned the the Jaisalmer festival is an annual event held in February. I bet I'm the only person to have ever blogged about the Jaisalmer 2004 festival though!
Bus Journey from Jaisalmer to Jaipur
The bus journey to Jaipur was certainly not as comfortable as a train ride, and when I arrived at six in the morning, all I had the energy to do, was check into a hotel and veg. It was a waste of a day, because I was due to leave again on the Friday, but I was so shattered, it was definitely the right thing to do.
Jaipur to Ranthambore Train – Blog post written Friday 06/02/04
After stocking up with more bread, I caught a rickshaw to the station in Jaipur. From here, I would get one of the trains to Ranthambore.
In a break from form, this train actually departed and then arrived on time… Amazing!!
Got another rickshaw to my hotel at Ranthambore, and checked in. At 500Rs a night, it was quite pricey compared to what I had been paying, but all the hotels around Ranthambore National Park were pretty pricey.
I gave in my clothes to be washed, as they REALLY needed it, and booked a tiger safari for the next evening and one more for the following morning.
Talked to some people who had already been on it, and they had seen a tiger in the morning but not in the evening, so it filled me with high hopes.
I also got talking to a couple who had been conned/persuaded into hiring a car and driver for eleven days from Delhi, and they weren't having a good time with it.
Still, people learn by their mistakes, and they WERE students. Common sense just doesn't seem to go hand in hand with university types!
Ranthambore in India is well known for its wildlife park, and I was looking forward to a tiger safari there. Sometimes though, travel plans don't always work out as they should!
Afternoon Tiger Safari in Ranthambore – Saturday 07/02/04
After a lazy day, I went on the afternoon tiger safari at two, and here's what I saw…
Monkeys, pigeons, parrots, chipmunks, deer, antelope, crocodile (lethargic or dead?), leopard (well, it's arse as it ran away).
As you may notice, a distinct lack of tigers. Spoke to a guy in the evening who had been out at the same time, but in a different jeep. He saw one killing a deer. I didn't. End of day.
Safari in Ranthambore – Sunday 08/02/2004
My second day at the Ranthambore park, where I was looking forward to my second safari. Would I be in luck and see a tiger in Ranthambore though?
Got up at 05.30 to go on the tiger safari, and here's what I saw.
Chipmunks, antelope, monkeys, deer.
As you can see, this list is exactly half the other one, and again, there is a distinct lack of tigers. In fact, a total absence of predators altogether. The scenery was quite nice, and I took a couple of photo's, all of which would have been better with a tiger in them!
The Great Tigerless Safari!!
More time in an Indian Railway Station – Monday 09/02/04
I checked out of the hotel at 12.00, and paid 3360 Rs on my visa for the first time, as up until then, it had been cash. I'm never too sure about using my credit cards abroad, but it all seemed legit enough, and I had no problems. I caught a rickshaw down to the station, and dumped my bag in the cloakroom.
Went for a walk around the town of Sawai Madhopur, but to say that it is nothing to write home about is to give it more credit than it's due! After my wander around the town, I settled into my station waiting routine of patiently waiting for the next train, whilst observing the fascinating goings on all around me.
The only entertainment I had, was a cup of chai, a packet of biscuits, a packet of cigarettes and a lonely planet book I must have read a hundred times. Your mind tends to drift when you've got nothing to do, on family, friends, the future.
The only thing that I seem to remember though, is that over the last couple of weeks, I had seen more and more pigs at the stations. They seem to serve no purpose other than to eat the rubbish that the monkeys, cows, dogs and rats found beneath them. I never saw pig on the menu.
Mumbai on the Rajdhani Express – Tuesday 10/02/04
It was a long wait for the train, but a reasonably interesting journey. It was a ‘Rajdhani Express‘ which is India's fastest and most famous train.
I shared the compartment with an Indian doctor from England who was in India visiting family, and a brother and sister. To make a change, their English was very good, and so there were some interesting conversations.
The meals on the train were free, and the only minor problem was that I didn't get a good nights sleep. I arrived in Mumbai only half an hour late, and was accosted by a taxi driver, who seemed to be under the deluded impression that I would spend 1500RS for a taxi ride.
After telling him where to shove it, I got another taxi at the correct price of 100RS. The hotel was a bit cell like with a shared bathroom, but its in an expensive city, and only cost 364RS a night.
Had lunch at a Subway, and then went back for a nap. Looked around some of the stalls on Fashion Street, and decided to buy a couple of T Shirts.
Had dinner in a lovely restaurant, where I ate a whole Tandori Salmon to myself. It was the most expensive meal I had in all India, but it was definitely worth it. On the way back to the hotel, I noticed that the taxi divers don't use their headlights in the dark. Very odd!
A Crappy Day in Mumbai – Wednesday 11/02/04
Not a particularly good nights sleep. The room, as I said, was very cell like, with half the walls not being solid but cast iron grilles. This meant that noise carried!
A lunatic Indian next door decided to blare out crap Hindi songs until two in the morning, A French couple decided to swap hotels at about two thirty, and other people were constantly talking and shouting.
After breakfast, I left the hotel with the intention of taking a trip over to Elephanta Island. I took a photo of India gate, and the massive Taj Hotel, but because of lack of sleep, and didn't have the patience or energy to deal with the constant bombardment of hassle by the touts and beggars, and so gave the trip a miss.
I wandered around, looking at very impressive Victorian buildings, and had lunch in the Subway again. Afterwards, a bought a book and a T shirt, and checked the net.
Arriving in Aurangabad on train – Friday 13/02/04
After breakfast, I checked out of the hotel, and left my bag at the train station. I had a bit of time to kill, so I went to the cinema, and watched ‘The Last Samurai' which was surprisingly average.
Afterwards had lunch, checked the net again and made a couple of phone calls. Caught the overnight train to Aurangabad, and shared a compartment with the district magistrate – amazing who you meet!
Arrived in Aurangabad at the ungodly hour of 4.40 and caught a rickshaw to the hotel. Lazed around, and then ordered breakfast and put my laundry in before hiring a rickshaw so that I could do a few errands.
I booked the Ajanta cave tour for the next day, and the Ellora tour for the day after.
Ajanta Caves in India – Saturday 14/02/04
The oldest Buddhist cave monuments at Ajanta date back almost 2000 years. There are 29 of them cut out from the rock, and due to their significance, are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
I decided to visit the Ajanta Caves on a day trip from Aurangabad, a trip I found very interesting. There was another English guy from the hotel on the same tour, so there was some half decent conversation as well!
The guide was reasonably insightful, and explained some of the history behind the Buddhist temples carved into the rock face. It would have been quite a large complex, before it became abandoned for no adequately explained reason, and then it lay forgotten and undisturbed until the British rediscovered them in the early 1800's.
Not many photos from this trip to the Ajanta temple caves. I'm not sure why. Perhaps my camera ran out of film that day!
Day Trip to Ellora Caves – Sunday 15/02/04
There was some initial confusion at the beginning of the tour to Ellora from Aurangabad. It was due to start at 9.30, and five of us sat on the bus until 10.15.
Somebody then came up to us, and said that there weren't enough people to warrant a bus, and that a taxi would take us.
I pointed out that including the driver, it would actually make six people in the old Ambassador on offer, and that we weren't going to fit. A jeep was then produced from nowhere, and we all got into that.
They then tried to tell us that we would have to join up with another tour and pay an additional fee to use their guide. I said no way, as our price included our own guide.
We then pulled away in the jeep, drove twenty metres up the road, did a U-turn, and returned to where we had started.
They then asked us to board the bus again, which we did, and were joined by a guide before we left, only just avoiding killing a motorcyclist on the way. Excellent stuff!!
The first stop was Daulatabad Fort, which was very different to the others forts in India that I had seen so far.
This one was carved out of the mountain itself. Surrounded by seven walls, with no aligned gates, there was also a moat which was filled with water and crocodiles (sadly absent nowadays!), and a labyrinth before reaching the palace.
Daulatabad Fort is probably one of the best designed forts I have ever see. We then visited a Shiva Lingam temple, where a phallus had allegedly grown out of the ground by itself.
The Ellora caves were outstanding, and in my opinion, far better than the Ajanta caves. The temples, again carved out of the mountain, had very detailed sculptures, and were of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain origin.
After lunch, we visited Aurangzebs tomb (pointless), Bibi-ka-Maqbara (a poor mans Taj Mahal), and Panchakki (a feeble water wheel driving a mill).
All in all, a good day though!!
Ellora Caves – Monday 16/02/04
Michael (the English guy from the hotel), and myself decided to visit the Ellora temples again today, and it was certainly worth the effort. We looked at some of the temples that the guide didn't show us the day before, and they were even more impressive.
There were some good carvings of the skeleton God, and Shiva stomping on demons. Some of the carvings reminded me of Egyptian statues, and it got me thinking to what links there may have been between the two cultures.
The word Ra for instance occurs throughout India in relation with Kings, ie.. Rama, Raj, Rajas, Rajasthan, etc.
I had an uneventful overnight train journey, and arrived in Secundanabad pretty much on time, where I caught a rickshaw to a hotel in Hyderabad.
At 200RS, it was a bit grubby, but it was only for the one night.
After a quick breakfast, I got a rickshaw over to Golconda Fort and back. It was quite an impressive place, with some great views over the city, but it was a shame the Indians couldn't use the rubbish bins.
This was a chill out day… (very important part of travelling chilling out/vegging/doing cock all!!) I checked out of the hotel and then had breakfast, before using a rickshaw to get to the station.
Dumped my bag, and spent half an hour trying to find out my seat number for that evenings train. I checked the internet, and I had quite a few emails.
Steve Denton was in Christchurch, New Zealand at the time, and had just bumped into ‘The Wizard' (a well known eccentric) again.
Bought some bananas for lunch, and headed back to the station. The train was delayed by five hours, and for most of the time I was absolutely dying for a dump, but didn't want to use the facilities on offer. The wait was only made a little more bearable by the appearance of an Indian transvestite.
(this entry covers a few days. I met a girl from England out there, and diary writing took a bit of a back seat!!!)
The train didn't make any time up overnight, and as a result, I missed my connection to Mysore, which meant that I had to stay in Bangalore for a couple of nights.
I was in a quite nice hotel, so no worries. Did things like change money and get laundry done. Also got a malaria tablet stuck in my throat, which tasted as though I had been sucking on a rusty nail
Went for a walk down MG street, which hardly looks like it's in India at all. Lots of modern shops, and wait for it… proper roads!! I felt quite out of place.
Went on a tour. First stop was the Visvesvaraya Industrial and Technological museum, which was a hands on place with displays from the dinosaurs to space exploration. We drove past several impressive looking government buildings, and then to Tipu Sultans Palace, which I have to say, was a bit of a waste of time.
The Lalbagh Botanical gardens were pretty, and we had an hour or so there, so I found some shade and read my book After that, they took us to a handicraft emporium, which i wandered around briefly in disinterest. Then went to see a couple of temples, and caught a rickshaw back to the hotel.
Checked out of the room, and caught a rickshaw to the train station. Miraculously, the fare was the same price as the pre-paid rickshaw to the hotel, and the driver used the meter without being asked!
The waits for the trains would have been unbearable without cigarettes, but hey kids, that's not an excuse to start smoking!! (2006- have been quit for over a year!!). I worked out a rough plan for the following days, which went completely tits up.
After that, I became a bit rubbish at keeping my diary. Basically, quite a lot happened, but only I need to know about it, and not you!!!
Some additional highlights were… A rickshaw driver being so stoned he kept asking me to drive the rickshaw, random people trying to sell me fish, a dead body washed up on the shoreline, tonnes of albinos, transvestites and midgets. I ended up eventually in Chennai (madras).
Sorry to miss out my final 10 days, but that stuff is personal to me and no one else!